Monday, January 23, 2012


Any talk that Downton's second season isn't living up to its first should cease right now! Last night's episode had it all -- romance (Who is your favorite star crossed couple Bates and Anna or Mary and Matthew? Discuss -- and comment below for goodness sakes),clever wordplay, squabbling among the servants (O'Brien should watch for falling houses) and a musical number that had me reaching for the Kleenex and was, hands down, my favorite scene in a deliciously satisfying hour. I have but one request of Downton's producers: give Laura Linney her walking papers. I like her, but really ... Have you noticed the way she says Downtin Abbey in the intro. The Dowager Countess does not approve!

If you saw this episode, you know just how fabulous it was and if you didn't here's what you missed:

The upstairs-downstairs residents at Downton Abbey have settled into their new routine running a convalescent hospital while maintaining a stiff upper lip and a truncated schedule of formal dinners. Lady Edith and Mary have agreed to a temporary truce long enough to perform together at a concert held at Downton to entertain the recuperating soldiers. Both Lord and Lady Grantham have seemingly gotten over their befuddlement and discomfort over having the war come to their right up to their doorstep and completely upend their lives. And Edith, of all people, seems to have found her calling as Downton's comforter-in-chief.

The turf war between Cousin Isobel and Cora over just who is in charge at Downton was decided in the opening minutes of the episode when Isobel, positively apoplectic over Cora's decision to go on medical rounds with Major Clarkson without her and change the patients' lunch schedule, confronts the lady of house. "You might think you ordain the universe," snipes Isobel loaded for bear. Cora, who seems to have gained a great deal more self-confidence since the last episode, stays silent until Isobel calls her "unprofessional" then adds it's really no surprise since Cora "never had a profession in your life."

When Cora fires back, "Stop your bullying!" Isobel threatens to leave Downton. Bad move. Cora calls her bluff and just like that the show's most annoying character (even if she is Matthew's mother) is sent packing to France to work with the Red Cross. Thus, I hope, ending this storyline. Buh-bye.

Out in the gardens, Mary faces another grilling by Granny about her dubious choice of suitors. The Dowager Countess isn't thrilled (and that's putting it mildly) that Mary's suitor resorted to blackmail to get information from Lavinia on that boring minister scandal which was revealed to be at the heart of the threatening exchange overheard by Rosamund between Sir Richard and Lavinia (or at least that what's Matthew's meh fiancee said). "He lives in a tough world," said Mary in his defense. "And will you be joining him there?" asked Granny who is still holding out hope that Mary and Matthew will reunite. "Granny, it's time to move forward," says Mary who clearly hasn't, but is doing her best to pretend she has.

Undaunted, the Dowager Countess moves on to another topic -- Sybil's love life. She suspects the youngest Grantham may be involved with a man "she doesn't care to mention." How astute of you, Granny. Over by the garage, Sybil and Branson (Who have yet to even kiss) have a heated lover's quarrel. For all his grand talk of standing up for his political beliefs, Sybil is disappointed that Branson is still at Downton "tinkering" with "the motors" from the sidelines while the world changes. Silly girl. The lovelorn but highly egotistical Branson explains why he hasn't bolted: "I'll stay at Downton until you run away with me... You're too scared to admit it, but you're in love with me." I predict some tastefully steamy scenes between these two in the not too distant future.

The couple is interupted by Mary who sizes up the situation pretty quickly and later confronts her sister. "What did you think -- you'd marry the chauffeur and we'd all come to tea?" asks Mary who is appalled at the idea of Sybil's downward mobility in the romance department. "Promise me you won't do anything stupid or I'll tell Papa tonight." Sybil reassures Mary she won't run off with the help but later tells Branson her sister knows about them. Branson feels this is the validation he's been waiting for from his Lady Love since this is the first time she's acknowledged there is an "us." She's incensed that he'd ask her to give her life at Downton up for him. "Too high a price to pay?" he asks. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Speaking of Papa, I am completely crushing on Hugh Bonneville's Lord Grantham. He has imbued the character with such warmth that he has surpassed my other favorite lovable British dad (the real life Michael Middleton -- just think back to how lovely he was on Kate's wedding day and you'll see what I mean). The man is just so decent and kind. I know Julian Fellowes never met an aristocrat he didn't like but he broke the mold creating this fine fellow. Okay, that's it for the soap box.

Lord Grantham was very busy being a big softie during this episode. His first stop is with Mary to argue on the merits of love versus money. (When Mary reminds him he married Cora for her money he is chagrined and says, 'Your mother has made me very happy.") He is none to pleased to receive a letter from Sir Richard Carlisle asking for his permission to propose to Mary (although he's already asked her). Mary's romantic reply when her father asks if she's accepted. "I think I'll take him." Be still my heart. "What about Matthew?" asks Lord Grantham to which she replies: "Oh no not you too! What must he do to convince you he's in love with Lavina open his chest and carve her name on his heart?" Ouch. Lord Grantham tells Mary to write to Matthew to tell him of her plans to marry. "You owe him that," he says.

Mary does write to Matthew who, after, reading the letter picks up Mary's little stuffed dog -- his good luck charm -- and heads out with William (who I was sure was going to be dead by the end of episode) on patrol only to get shot at by the Germans. Uh oh.

Back in Yorkshire, Isobel's departure has left little for Mrs. Bird and Mr. Mosley to do. Mosely decides to kiss up to Carson and see if he can fill in (permanently) as Lord Grantham's valet. I don't like this character but it might be interesting to see him go up against O'Brien. Even though he's a bit wishy washy, something tells me he's wily enough to give her and maybe even Thomas a run for the money.

At the house, Daisy is concerned that something has happened to William and Matthew because they haven't shown up at Downton as William had written they would. She boldly asks Lady Edith (while denying when asked by Edith if William is "her beau") if Lord Grantham could look into it. The newly compassionate Edith says she'll ask her father to find out what he can. Lord Grantham is stricken to learn from the War Office that Matthew and William are both missing and asks Edith not to tell anyone the news until they learn more.

Thomas ("That's Sergeant Barrow!") is driving all the servants batty with his imperious manner and is back in cahoots with O'Brien. Major Clarkson tells him to back off. He receives a letter from his father telling him that Bates is working at a pub in the village. Daisy overhears the news and shares it with Carson who is aghast that a "trained valet" would slum it in a public house. He immediately takes the news to Lord Grantham and the two men confront Thomas about keeping the news from them. The former footman doesn't flinch reminding them that he was under no obligation to share this bit of information. "I'm not under Carson's command now, your Lordship."

Down in the kitchen, while O'Brien chides Thomas for letting Lord Grantham question him ("I won't put you down for a career in diplomacy"). Ethel applauds Thomas for escaping servant life and announces "I'm ready for a new adventure." O'Brien, who is obviously psychic in addition to being a witch says rather presciently, "Be careful what you wish for."

In carrying out his latest string of good deeds, Lord Grantham tells Anna about Bates possibly being in the village and the housemaid tells him she's already seen him. Why hasn't he come back? asked Lord Grantham clearly missing his old "comrade in arms." Two reasons, Anna explains, one he wants to settle "certain matters with Mrs. Bates" and two, because they "parted on bad terms" Bates fears it might be "embarrassing." To which Grantham replies: "It is for me to be embarrassed."

Hat in hand -- literally -- Lord Grantham goes to see Bates to convince him to return to Downton. This scene was among my favorite in the episode with both Bonneville and Brendan Coyle playing these two honorable men constrained by their social positions with such subtlety and meaning. Bates tells his former employer that he has proof Vera has been unfaithful pointing out that while he has "cheated in his heart," he has never done anything dishonorable and her indiscretion will allow him to divorce her. Lord Grantham, who now knows the real reason behind Bates' hasty departure was to protect the Granthams from some mysterious scandal, tries to get him to reveal the real story about the gossip his wicked wife was threatening to reveal, but Bates dismisses it as "nonsense."

Lord Grantham then tells Bates that Matthew is missing and he fears for the worst. "I don't think I could bear it," says Grantham about the idea that Matthew may have been killed. "I loved him like a son. No I love him like a son. We have to stay in the present as long as we still can." So, he asks his old friend, will you come back to help me get through this "veil of shadows? I misjudged you and abused you when you left. I'm sorry." And with that, Bates is back in the fold. And Mr. Mosely is out of a job before he even started.

When he returns to the house, Bates gets a warm "welcome home" from Mrs. Hughes but O'Brien and Thomas are there to remind him that he's still the enemy. Bates jokes that he and Thomas are "like a couple of bad pennies" that keep turning up, but O'Brien is quick to remind him that Thomas has returned under very different circumstances. "I take orders from Major Clarkson." Bates offers his best line of the night: "Yet another reason to pray for peace." Good one!

O'Brien is particularly hateful in this episode. After suspecting that good hearted Mrs. Patmore and guileless Daisy are stealing food and selling it at the Crawley house with Mrs. Bird for profit, she brings Lady Cora along to catch them in the act. When Cora discovers the women are actually feeding wounded men discharged from the war, she rolls up her sleeves and helps them -- and puts O'Brien in charge of slicing the bread.

Anna and Bates have another one of their signature moonlight lovers' rendezvous in the courtyard. Bates asks Anna to "be patient" (only Job has been more patient in my book) and reassures her "You're stuck with me now good and proper." Cue the music (which I love!) as the couple embrace.

Not everyone is having a good night. That same evening, Mrs. Hughes, on a tip from Mr. Mosley, finds Ethel and Major Mustache rolling around in a spare room and fires Ethel. An new adventure, indeed.

Upstairs, the family -- still trying to maintain what little decorum they can -- are getting ready for a formal dinner. On their way down to the dining room, Edith tells Mary that Matthew is missing not out of spite but because she truly believes her sister has a right to know. Reeling at the news, Mary finds comfort in Anna who, if you ask me, is Mary's BFF despite their class difference. Later, Lord Grantham finally tells Cora the bad news and the family heads downstairs to put on the concert for the men. "We have to keep going whatever happens," Lord Grantham tells his wife and daughter.

The best line of night comes once again courtesy of Maggie Smith when her Countess, having overheard the soldiers making a racket on the other side of the door, while trying to enjoy a quiet evening with the family makes this observation: "It's like living in a second rate hotel with guests constantly arriving and no one seems to leave."

The night of the concert finally arrives and everyone looking miserable at the prospect of having to accept the worst about Matthew and William's disappearance. Major Mustache, the warm-up act, performs magic tricks with a black hat and some mysterious scarves for his fellow soldiers. Then it's time for The Crawley Sisters' act. "Now I've seen everything," deadpans the Dowager Countess. Accompanies by Edith on the piano, Mary performs "If You Were the Only Girl in the World." (Fun fact: the song, published in 1916, has been performed by Doris Day and Barbra Streisand) It's an extremely poignant moment as the camera pans to various soldiers in various states of recovery, the staff and family members who are all listening intently to Mary's sweet, lilting voice. Mary then gets the room to join her in song only to be stunned into silence when Matthew and William walk in. Everything stops. I cry like a baby.

"Don't stop for me," says Matthew as he walks towards Mary. (Michelle Dockery was wonderfully expressive in this scene without saying a word. My heart broke for Mary) A clearly relieved Lord Grantham rises to embrace the son he never had as Matthew ("My dear boy, my dear, dear, boy") joins Mary for the big finish on stage. It's Downton Abbey, the musical! More, please. And for God sakes man, kiss her already and lose the mopey redhead.

Afterwards, the whole house is glowing with happiness. Bates and Anna, clearly caught up in the spirit of things, steal a few moments where he tells her: "Who knew an amateur concert could be the summit of happiness. I've been in such a fog of misery since I left you." Anna tells him: "We must get used to being happy and trust it." Bates: "God, I want to." Something tells me this isn't going to end well. Believe me, I so want to be wrong but I don't think I will be.

Thomas and O'Brien look on. Thomas, although still clearly a sworn enemy of Bates, tells O'Brien he's got bigger things to worry about. O'Brien isn't about to let it go. "I hold a grudge longer," she says. The thought of she and Vera working together against Anna and Bates sends a chill up my spine.

Downstairs, Mrs. Hughes is confronted by Ethel who has returned to the house with news that she is pregnant with Major Mustache's baby. Let's see what trick he has up his sleeve now.

Photo credit: ITV for Masterpiece


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Diane, I know this is really not the proper forum, but I was writing a paper this morning (I went back to school after 20 + years) and was actually using your piece on Chinese adoption as a reference. Your name was so familiar to me, and I realized that my husband and I bought your mom's house back in 1996. I couldn't believe it when I read that you had also adopted your daughter from China. My husband and I also both adopted in 2005. You and I were both in the same hotel in Nanchang at the same time! I did a quick search and found your blog. Didn't want to be creepy, but I had to post. We have since sold the house, but wanted you to know that we loved living there and have many great memories...I remember them telling me that you were writing a book on Princess Diana at the same time, so I knew it was you. I believe we only met one time - when we looked at the house and you were writing at the dining room table. Anyway, I just thought it pretty werird. Adopting was one of the best things we've ever done...Fondly, Kristen Hayes

January 28, 2012 at 4:09 PM  
Blogger Deb W said...

Who knew Matthew could sing? Very well - like theater-musical sing?!?

I didn't find Isobel annoying. It seemed to me that, surrounded by the titled and wealthy, she thought she had found her niche and - as she said - wanted to be "appreciated" for herself too, not just the heir's hanger-on. I was disappointed to read the character will not be back for series III.

Are they using "Twighlight" makeup on Thomas? More than once I have been started by his dead-white pallor. The actor himself has a more normal skin tone.

Counting the hours until Sunday night.

January 28, 2012 at 6:17 PM  

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